This year is the first year that my company and I are able to get to the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, TX. I’m excited to go for sure, but don’t think that the experience will be what I need it to be. I’m no stranger to attending or speaking at conferences, both in my industry and on behalf of clients, but I have attended few conferences where I actually got what I NEEDED out of it. My fault? Partly. Sometimes it was due to a lack of a clearly defined game plan, sometimes it was just that I was attending the wrong conferences. What I need out of SxSW and what it appears from the outside the conference has become are 180 degrees from each other. So why am I going at all? Because I HAVE to. Everyone that I know that has ever attended tells me SxSW is a game-changer.
Why? Why do I have to go to SxSW when all it seems to be is about going to parties and hanging out with the ‘right’ people? Hey, I’m all for a party, but I’m not attending SxSW just to party, I need to make the *right* connections and meet the *right* people for very specific business goals. How that gets done in a sea of 15,000 attendees is beyond me. Yes, I understand there is the whole laid back kumbaya vibe about SxSW, but as harsh as this sounds, I can’t spend my entire week hanging around with people that don’t fit into my goals, not matter how cool or fun they are to hang with. I suppose you need to kiss a lot of frogs to get to a prince.
What worries me most is the apparent turn for the worse SxSW Interactive seems to have taken over the past few years. Rude people, pushy people. Low on tech, high on douchebaggery. Unprofessionalism. Disrespectfulness to the locals and to Austin itself. I want this trip to be fun, but I need it to be productive.
Examples of what I’ve been reading that make me feel the way I do:
- SXSW: The Cool and the Lame
- The Tale of Two Conferences
- Why SXSW Sucks
- A Data Dystopia and a Lack of Women Haunt SXSW
- The Value of SXSW
Now, if you are attending SxSW and are speaking, have a book published, or are a ‘household name’ in the industry, the conference is going to be amazing for you. People will be lining up after your talk to give you their card and snap a picture. You will sign books. You will have the higher-ups of companies approach you for your card to arrange speaking gigs. People will follow your Twitter stream and Foursquare checkins for hints on where they can ‘bump’ into you, or even say they know you in order to line jump into a party. When you are an ordinary attendee, this doesn’t happen to you. No one knows who you are, what you can offer, or what you can offer them that they actually need. 15,000 is a lot of people to small talk your way through in order to find the ones that matter.
The super elite (real or perceived) like Robert Scoble, iJustine, Jason Calacanis, or Chris Brogan either don’t attend or hide out with peers in high places. Instead I will be bombarded with “former mortgage brokers turned social media marketers” trying to get me to hire them or impress me on how many Twitter followers they
I’m hoping that the follow up post I write about SxSW is better, and not bitter, like this one clearly feels. I am working hard to change my attitude going into the conference. I know I will get out of the conference what I put into it, that is why I’m doing so much research and pre-planning – fluttering around from BBQ to party hoping that something ‘happens’ is not how I work. I hope you can leave a comment and tell me what exactly made SxSW so amazing for you, and what exactly you got out of it. Hanging out with your friends or meeting Twitter followers in person is a horrible way to spend $3,000 to go to a conference. Prove me wrong, tell me about how your business grew, how you met the right people for your goals. Tell me what I need to expect out of SxSW.
What I’m interested in getting out of SxSW are two distinct things:
Finding and connecting with people and resources that value WOMEN in TECHNOLOGY.
- Not women who USE technology. I’m not a coder, but I am a tech. I know that lately this is the vogue topic to be interested in, but I have been living this topic for over 20 years.
Finding and connecting with business development (biz-dev) and financial investment (VC) firms interested in working with a proven, profitable software development & professional services company.
- My company isn’t a startup. We have a roster of happy, paying clients. We have multiple software platforms deployed. We would like to connect with people that can mutually benefit from our products, expertise and talent.
If you are interested in these topics or can help me find people that are, you should hunt me down like free bacon at a tech conference. “Social Media Experts” need not apply.
Read my SxSW INTERACTIVE 2011 RECAP or any of the day-by day posts I published on my trip.
Stay home in NJ, Lynette, and we can grab all the clients back here who can’t reach their social media strategists who are all partying out in Austin. Nothing beats customer service for attracting customers.
LOL Agreed! The team & I are ‘shopping’ a different part of our company at SxSW – software platform that we’ve had in production for some time. It seems like a good place to meet people, but maybe I’m just overwhelmed at the size of it.
(sorry for posting this twice, but didn’t know if you were more likely to catch this here or on Facebook):
Lynette, I’ve attended SXSW for 9 years now and I always have an amazing time, but frankly it’s because my chief goal was not directly business-related. Even when I’ve been there “on business” (covering interactive/film for press, professional development) the two greatest things I’ve always gotten out of SXSW was meeting great people (not the “right people”, just amazing people) and being exposed to great ideas and therefore being inspired to come up with great ideas. Nothing feeds me intellectually more than the five days I spend in the company of smart, creative people. The business benefit of all of this has mostly been tangential, but nonetheless important. Which is to say I’m as good at what I do (online content, digital strategy) as I am, in part, because of SXSW. It’s why I knew about Twitter two years before everybody else. It’s why I understood the power of gaming psychology two years before everybody else. I’m a better asset to whomever I work for because of it. And I’m better at coming up with ideas and strategies to start my own business because of it. Yes, the conference has grown unwieldy and yes, it’s easy to get lost, but there are guides (I needed one when I first got there) and people who are happy to help. I can introduce you to some if you like. And I’m happy to give you tips if you like. I can’t tell you what SXSW is “supposed” to be, but I can tell you what it has been for me, an endlessly generative source of creativity and friendship, which in business terms translates to being an asset and having the network to connect with people who value those assets.
Good points, I will have to take you up on help! The thing is, for me EVERYTHING IS BUSINESS. I’m killer busy. I’m running a company. I deal with clients every single day. I generate business every day (or at least actively work on it every day). I honestly don’t have time in my business, my career, or my *life* to go bum around Austin for six days hoping to make a meaningful connection.
For the record, I’ve never been to SxSW and I knew about Twitter almost 5 years ago – I worked with Biz on another project when they were developing Twitter. I already have the means to find out about the latest shiny object ahead of everyone else.
I guess I am a little confused about why you are attending a conference at all. (I understand you have to). Please keep in mind my comments are coming from a “show organizer” perspective. Before creating BlogWorld in 2006, I attended and exhibited at hundreds of tradeshows and conferences and worked for 3 of the largest events in North America. Two of them had over 100,000 attendees.
Let’s talk about your first off hand complaint first. Having 15,000 people at an event is a good thing not a bad thing. The more people attending who are a part of any particular industry; the greater sample, insight, knowledge and networking opportunities you get within that industry.
Yes I realize you only want to meet a small segment of that total population but when the entire pie grows so does the piece of it you are after.
Second when I think about attending a “conference” I think about attending to learn first. That is the entire point behind an educational conference. SXSW has hundreds of educational sessions. Attendees can judge if those sessions were relevant, informative etc but I think it is hard to argue they aren’t trying to educate and serve their community. That seems to fit the core mission a conference and this conference in particular.
Which brings up another point. Far too many people confuse the mission of a conference with the mission of a tradeshow. SXSW also has a tradeshow. That is where companies looking to meet attendees who are potential customers pay to exhibit. Attendees walk the floor in search of new suppliers. Sales pitches and transactions are expected.
If you are attending a conference in search of new business, then you are what we in the event business call “a suitcaser” someone selling their goods out of a suitcase instead of paying for an exhibit space like the other exhibiting companies. It is in effect stealing from the show organizer and the community. It offends the other exhibitors and the other attendees who do not want to hear sales pitches while they are not on the exhibit floor, trying to get educated, meet with their friends and peers within the industry and enjoy a social event.
I realize that your “product” doesn’t really apply here and it would be a stretch for you to buy a booth at SXSW, but I think you need to be fair to SXSW at the same time and realize you fit in the margins of who their attendee is.
There are definitely a lot of VCs at SXSW. There are definitely a lot of people who value women in tech and who are interested in and talking about it there. That just isn’t the core mission of the event. At least as I see it.
To me SXSW interactive’s core mission is to foster the discussion and education around all the things the internet and world wide web entail.
Does that all make sense?
There definitely is a group of folks who do go “bum” around Austin, but again to be fair, you have that element at any major industry event. Just because a certain segment chooses to waste the most valuable opportunity of the year doesn’t make that opportunity a waste for everyone attending.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Yes, it makes sense. I cracked up at the thought of a ‘suitcaser’ – I’ve done plenty of time in a trade floor booth over my career and I remember those folks vividly. I’m not selling at the conference, just looking to make connections. With 15,000 people roaming the halls and the streets of SxSW, it is unlikely I will even get to meet 1% of them. Add in the fact I’m not an up-all-night partier and that cuts out my access to a lot of these people by half. I’m not on any A-list to get into better parties, so that cuts my chances in half again.
What disturbs me most is that of the *hundreds* of posts and videos I’ve watched specifically about the last two SxSW conferences, I’ve read less than 10% (yes, I’m keeping a spreadsheet) of them that say going for the education and sessions was worth it. Really? People think that little of the actual content? I paid for a ticket to SxSW before the schedule was published, and had higher hopes seeing content that is a bit more cutting edge, not the same old social media sessions but with catchy titles.
I have seen even less posts that brag about the trade floor at SxSW – only accounts of the swag. That makes me sad. Is it that the content or vendors suck? No, hardly. It’s the attendees point of view. If I need to find out about the best BBQ in Austin, I’ve found dozens of posts on that – but that’s not why I’m going to SxSW. I am going representing my business. I see so few people talk about *business* when it comes to attending.
I don’t think it’s a bad idea to play ‘devils advocate’ going into this conference. I was hoping to have people respond back with solid ways that THIS conference was a good pick in my list of 3-4 a year I make it to. $3k is a lot of money to spend not to have something to show for it when I get back to the office.
LOL maybe the people that are doing the ‘bumming’ are the most active bloggers!
Thank you for taking my comment as it was intended Lynette. You have a very good strategy to attend the first year and exhibit the second. Particularly if you have any doubts about the event having the right focus for your business. Which really seems to be the relevant question you are asking.
Picking the right event to participate in is a very important decision for any potential exhibitor or attendee to ask.
There is a lot of SXSW bashing that goes on out and I think a lot of it is unfair and unwarranted. If your business is the right fit, SXSW is a very productive event.